the guardian Fri 17 July 2009
Venice really is like a fish, as Venetian novelist Tiziano Scarpa says: on a map it looks like "a vast sole stretched out against the deep". And, he adds, "it could set off on its travels at any time". This is not a conventional history or guide to Venice. In style it is more Calvino than Rough Guide - a quirky and witty attempt to get under the skin of this unique city that attracts some 13 million tourists each year. Scarpa guides his reader through the Venice of the senses, starting with a chapter on feet, then legs, heart, hands, nose, eyes and so on, exploring the smell, taste and look of La Serenissima. It is a city that "is constipated with the past", whose history is written in the name of each calle and in its crumbling masonry. Indeed, it is quite literally "falling to bits", slowly and gloriously, an unforgettable city of textures ("Venice is an uninterrupted Braille handrail"), smells (avoid Rio della Muneghéte), and photo opportunities: "every angle radiates beauty". A delightful meditation on Venice: occasionally self-indulgent, but always charmingly so.